Malaysia unveils new Covid-19 aid package

Malaysia unveils new Covid-19 aid package

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin unveiled yesterday a new RM15 billion (S$4.93 billion) aid package as the coronavirus pandemic threatened to overwhelm the healthcare system.

He also announced that private hospitals have agreed to take on coronavirus patients who are now being treated at public healthcare facilities, as doctors began to speak out over the strain in hospitals.

The total number of Covid-19 patients being treated in government facilities has grown from 3,000 in October to around 40,000 today.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin said the aid package called Permai will, among other things, help front-liners and the economy. Two-thirds of the country have entered the second week of a strict partial lockdown.

“The Permai initiative will be based on three main objectives, which are to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the welfare of the people, and to support the survival of businesses,” PM Muhyiddin said in a speech telecast live on television and social media.

The new package is a fraction of the RM250 billion stimulus package dished out by the government under the first movement control order (MCO) announced last March, with more businesses allowed to remain open this time around.

Six states, including economically dominant Selangor, Johor and Penang, along with the three federal territories including Kuala Lumpur, have been placed under MCO 2.0 for two weeks.

Daily cases hit a record high of 4,029 on Saturday, after averaging more than 2,500 a day for the whole of January.

Mr Muhyiddin yesterday also announced the expansion of a wage subsidy scheme for business owners in the states and regions under the MCO, while assuring the public of the continuation of a targeted loan moratorium for those who had pay cuts or lost their income due to the pandemic.

The aid package will see RM2.2 billion allocated to the Welfare Department to help affected families, while a RM50 million food basket programme for eligible households is also set to begin. A slew of incentives in the aid package is aimed at providing greater tax relief for Malaysians and also spurring the local economy.

The strained Malaysian healthcare system has forced many patients to go untreated even as the authorities cut down on testing for close contacts.

The health front-liners, who spend hours in stifling protective gear daily, had begun complaining to the media in October, albeit anonymously.

But today, some doctors are speaking out openly after the total number of active Covid-19 cases has multiplied to 40,000, far more than the 34,000 beds – increased from 29,000 only in recent weeks – reserved for such patients in public hospitals and quarantine centres.

“I hope whoever reads this can help me, and find me a way out,” Dr Mustapha Kamal posted last Friday on Facebook. He said his transfer to the country’s main Covid-19 facility, Hospital Sungai Buloh, was when “things started to spiral downwards”.

“I see my colleagues fall down, my teammates in and out of quarantine. Most of us had fallen out to burnout,” he said in the post.

Another physician, Dr Alzamani Idrose, last week complained about the situation in Hospital Kuala Lumpur, saying that critical patients needing ventilators had to be warded in the emergency zone rather than the intensive care unit.

He was also scathing about those who turned up at the emergency department.

“Without any feeling of guilt and full of pride, you share photos standing less than a metre apart without masks on social media… You give live bullets to the virus to shoot at front-liners,” he said.

About 2 per cent of Malaysia’s 160,000 or so infections comprise medical staff, straining rosters and forcing the Health Ministry to scramble to beef up the ranks with contract hires. After adding 8,000 personnel last year, another 3,500 are expected to join by the end of the month.

Mr Muhyiddin said the country’s vaccination programme is “on track”, and he expects 27 million Malaysians to be vaccinated by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

Source: The Straits Times

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